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Rapidly changing technology and a globalizing business world will have a major impact on certified public accountants in the coming years. That's according to "CPA Horizons 2025," a survey conducted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, or AICPA, with the participation of state CPA societies.
Released in late 2011, the report taps the insights of working accountants about the opportunities and challenges likely to arise in the profession over the next 15 years. More than 5,600 CPAs shared their views in online discussion groups, focus groups, interactive surveys and in-person forums -- together contributing more than 75,000 comments. It's the second report of its kind, following on the heels of the CPA Vision Project, conducted in 1998, which looked ahead to changes in the CPA profession through 2011.
In the current report, the accountants predict that technology will dramatically affect their profession in the near term. Social media and telecommuting will likely mean more flexibility in their working lives, as it becomes easier to communicate with clients halfway around the globe. And the rise of mobile technology and network speeds means that financial reporting will move faster.
With these technological advances will come cheaper and faster computer programs that will probably replace some services traditionally provided by CPAs. However, trained accountants and their sound judgment will be more important than ever, as the paperless world of high-speed digital communication may open the door to errors, breaches of privacy and fraud. For that reason, the accountants surveyed strongly urged their peers to embrace changing technology so that they can ensure the integrity and privacy of clients' information.
The accountants also anticipated changes in how CPAs are educated. For one example, advancing technology means that continuing education is easier than in the past. Instead of attending a class or ordering a paper instruction manual in the mail, CPAs can now find podcasts or webinars online that help them fulfill requirements more quickly and efficiently.
But even though technology is key to CPAs' future, the accountants surveyed also saw an increased need for interpersonal and communication skills, and for broad understanding of finance and economics. These areas will be increasingly important as business becomes more international in scope, they argue. Also for that reason, accountants should stay current on changing regulations.
Embracing globalization is key to the continued prominence of the accounting profession, according to the survey. As one respondent said, "CPAs need to advocate globally because there are worldwide business implications of other countries, laws, regulations, and cultures." Another respondent echoed that sentiment, commenting that, "More emphasis will be needed on foreign languages in colleges/universities and cultural awareness training to be able to gain the respect to do business in other countries."
The report also reflects CPAs' thoughts about the broad direction their profession should take. Those include increasing the visibility of CPAs, encouraging pride in the profession and expanding CPAs' role in the marketplace. The CPA should be the "premier designation" of the accounting profession worldwide, and CPAs should continue to play a key role as trusted attesters of financial information and advisors on complex financial matters. In addition, it should be made clear that CPAs can add value in many areas of business and society.
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